Design & Emotion Blog

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Decisions based on our emotions are more consistent

Very interesting study by Professor Leonard Lee of Columbia Business School, together with On Amir of the University of California, San Diego and Dan Ariely of Duke University. They investigated what drives the consistency of consumer preference. In particular, the researchers theorized that consistency might be a result of an emotionally driven decision-making process.



Lee and his coresearchers adopted a concept from economics — transitivity — to measure preference consistency. A person who chooses a hot dog over a chili dog and a chili dog over a turkey burger should, according to the preference consistency paradigm, choose a hot dog over a turkey burger. “But if I chose a turkey burger over a hot dog, that means my choices are not that consistent. I have violated transitivity,” Lee explains.

The researchers tracked how many times subjects violated transitivity. When subjects chose from products presented in formats designed to provoke a more deliberative decision-making processes, they accumulated more transitivity violations: their choices were less consistent than when they chose from products presented in more emotionally evocative formats.

Important insights

Important insight adapted from this study was that it might make more sense for marketers to use “affective cues to elicit emotional processing in consumers, instead of merely listing all the features of a product, which could induce greater cognitive processing.”

Another important conclusion is that from a consumer perspective, the research implies that satisfaction might be linked to preference consistency.

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